Sunday, March 18, 2007

Gas-powered boots

Over at Cnet is a story about Soviet-era gas-powered boots. The invention itself is really only a red herring for the main point about how the Cold War military bureaucracy stifled the culture of innovation in Russia.

Coincidentally, I picked up a reprint of an old Iron Man comic, "Tales of Suspense" No. 40. Iron Man vs. Gargantus. And the lead-in involved multimillionaire arms dealer Tony Stark selling demonstrating, ahem, "transistor-powered roller skates."

So once again, science fiction precedes fact. Minus one or two matters of detail, of course.

Here's the full page from the Iron Man story:

Don't ask for the rest, it's rather forgettable.

Here's how the Russian boots work:
Taking a step down will compress air in the shoe--as in a typical sneaker, said Enikeev, who was a designer on the project. But then, a tiny carburetor injects gasoline into the compressed air and a spark plug fires it off. Instead of fastening a seat belt, the institute's test runner, Marat D. Garipov, an assistant professor of engineering, strapped on shin belts at a recent demonstration. Then he flicked an ignition switch.

Before running down a university corridor, he jumped in place a few times to warm up the engine. Garipov then ran laps for about 10 minutes, going about 12 miles per hour, with the two-stroke boots emitting small puffs of exhaust.

A test runner once topped out at 21.7 miles per hour, despite the risk of being sent off-balance.

The tanks in the shoes hold a third of a cup of gasoline each and will take the runner three miles; that means the boots get about 70 miles per gallon.

"The worst situation is when the spark fires as the runner just lands, and the force of the blast is absorbed by his body," Garipov explains flatly.